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Specialized 3D printed prosthetic devices can help people born without a limb, and those who lost one later in life, continue to participate in activities they enjoy, such as playing a sport or an instrument, lifting weights, and swimming. Last spring, we heard about a 3D printed amphibious prosthetic leg called The Fin, developed by Northwell Health with help from Long Island design firm Eschen Prosthetic & Orthotic Laboratories and Composites Prototyping Center.

The Fin seems to be one of a kind – a carbon fiber 3D printed prosthetic attachment that allows amputee swimmers to move from land into the water, without having to switch up devices in between. Northwell Ventures was hoping to make the the limb commercially available in about six months, and while that goal was not reached, it appears that commercialization could be coming soon for The Fin. This week, Northwell began a new study to produce and commercialize the 3D printed swim leg, with hopes of bringing it to the market in just three to five months.

The results will help with a future application to the FDA, with a goal of working with the US Department of Veterans Affairs to make The Fin more widely available to the veterans who need it.

Northwell scientist Todd Goldstein and “The Fin”

“We made something that didn’t exist yet and solved a specific problem in a very spectacular way,” said Northwell Health researcher Todd Goldstein, PhD, who designed and developed the amphibious prosthetic leg. “My hope is that this device creates unforeseen opportunities for amputees everywhere. This study is the first step in making this innovative prosthetic available to the millions of amputees looking to return to the water.”

The study aims to collect data from up to ten participants about the prosthetic leg’s efficiency and ease of use in the water. Conically-shaped holes in the leg, designed to create natural amounts of drag and propulsion, control how much water moves through it; additionally, the number of holes in The Fin can be customized to suit a specific amputee’s needs.

47-year-old Seamus Doherty, a commanding officer of a Brooklyn-based detective squad, lost his leg after a nearly fatal hit-and-run motorcycle accident. He hopes that The Fin will allow him to spend more time with his young son, who loves being in the water.

Doherty said, “This prosthetic is the answer to my prayers in being able to spend more time with Seamus at the beach and truly being free to come and go in and out of the water.”

Not only does The Fin make it unnecessary for wearers to switch back and forth between prosthetics, but it’s also designed to provide them with a more natural sensation as well. This aspect is much appreciated by 28-year-old Marine veteran and study participant Kevin Vaughan, who had his leg amputated after a 2011 bomb attack in Afghanistan.

“Before the Marine Corps, I grew up at the beach and the pool, and that was hindered after my service. Now I can use this prosthetic to return to something I love to do, which is go the beach and swim,” said Vaughan.

This study, which shows Northwell’s commitment to increasing innovation and providing care for veterans and other patients, is a beacon of hope for amputees in the US who are looking to return to their previously active lifestyles.

“For amputees with a passion for swimming, there was no device out there that was truly amphibious and allowed them to really swim,” said Thomas Thornton, Senior Vice President of Northwell Ventures. “We hope to develop other customized solutions that will enable the estimated 1.9 million people who have lost a limb nationwide — a number that is expected to double by 2050 — to resume active lifestyles.”

You can pre-order The Fin, and learn more about Northwell’s automated 3D printing lab, here.

Discuss this story, and other 3D printing topics, at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts in the Facebook comments below.

[Images: Northwell]
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